VA Secretary asks why vets were placed in Bay Pines building without heat

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) -The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs wants to know why 37 homeless veterans are being housed in a building with a broken heating system.

On Wednesday, a number of veterans and employees at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center contacted News Channel 8 to say they were freezing in building 102.

The building’s heating system broke down in September, and it does not have hot water. Veterans must walk across a parking lot to take a shower.

“You get to walk right through the parking lot, right off the loading dock, past the garbage cans, right into the showers. I mean that’s unbelievable,” said John Wells, a retired Navy commander and now executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy.

Veterans claim the temperature fell to 46 degrees in the building on Thursday.

“I think outrageous is probably a mild term, it’s certainly inexcusable,” said Mr. Wells.

Mr. Wells sent an email with a detailed letter to Secretary Shulkin in which he pointed out he was contacted by News Channel 8 concerning a dangerous health and safety concern at Bay Pines.

Mr. Wells and News Channel 8 also contacted Congressman Gus Bilirakis.

Rep. Bilirakis called Secretary Shulkin and asked for immediate action.

Shulkin is looking into the issue and has offered the 37 veterans an opportunity to move to a warmer location within the medical center.

Secretary Shulkin assured the congressman that these veterans will be offered the opportunity tonight to move elsewhere within Bay Pines.

According to Bay Pines Public Affairs Specialist Melanie Thomas, temporary heaters were connected to ductwork on the roof of the building in question. Ms. Thomas contends the temperature in the building is comfortable.

Bay Pines refused to provide anyone for an on-camera interview or allow WFLA-TV to videotape the building in question.

“I don’t know personally the person that’s in charge of this facility, but I think they owe an explanation,” said Mr. Wells.

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